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Sandy, 6 months later: PIX11 visits neighborhoods devastated by storm

In the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy, residents of the Tri-State area grappled with the loss of loved ones and an estimated $100 billion in damages to the region. This week, PIX11 News continues its live coverage of the areas hit hardest by Sandy with “PIX11 CARES” segments.

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WEST BABYLON, New York (PIX11) - The Suffolk County Health Department turned up at a rental complex in West Babylon, meeting a Hurricane Sandy victim who said her temporary apartment was invaded by mold.

31 year old Lauren Norinder, who moved to Unit 411 at the Harbour Club last March, complained that her clothing and new furniture were damaged by mold.  Norinder and her husband–parents to two, young sons–broke their lease two months early and demanded their security deposit back.  The owner, Susan Barbash, suggested that

the Norinder family brought the mold with them, when they moved in.

The Norinders hired a private mold inspector, Michelle Ferguson, who said lab results showed that dangerous levels of a mold called stachybatrys were found inside a wall cavity in the apartment.  The owner hired her own inspector, who concluded that no stachybatrys was found on the walls.  But the family’s consultant pointed out, “They did not search the section of the wall I did.  They did not inspect inside the wall cavity.”

Some previous and current residents of Harbour Club belong to a Facebook site that shares information on the complex.  Some tenants moved out in recent years, claiming that moisture issues weren’t dealt with.

But not everyone has problems in the building where Lauren Norinder used to live on Marine Lane.

Jane McGrath, who lives in Unit 427, told PIX 11 she never had any problems with mold.

Rich Groh, who works for Babylon’s Department of Environmental Control, told PIX 11 the findings from Thursday’s visit–and the two lab reports–would be turned over to the New York State Department of Health.

WEST BABYLON (PIX11) - A Long Island mother of two cried as she went through family belongings inside a rental unit in West Babylon.  Lauren Norinder said she had to throw out her five-year old son’s Mother’s Day card, along with clothing and furniture, because the FEMA-funded two bedroom  apartment she’s been renting since March has mold.  Norinder is breaking the lease two months early and going to her mother’s house, because her options have run out.

“Having to go through what we went through—losing our house, and then our stuff, and going through it again,” she said with tears in her eyes, “We’re homeless.”

Norinder—whose one-family home was flooded in the October 29th storm– said she had to move out of the West Babylon apartment complex with her husband and two sons Wednesday,  because her youngest son, Lucas—who’s 4—has severe bronchial asthma.  Norinder said  his cough got more pronounced in the last month.  When she and her husband looked for a ‘trigger’—Norinder said they found their winter clothing in the closet was full of mold, along with shoes, pocketbooks, and even new bedroom furniture.

The leasing manager at the complex told them they couldn’t have their $4,000 security deposit back, writing a letter saying “because of the lack of proper upkeep and housekeeping, you could cause damage to the property and you will be responsible for the damage.”

PIX 11 talked to the owner of the property, who told us this is the first Sandy victim staying at the complex who’s complained of mold.   The owner blamed the family for not keeping the air conditioning on during the severe heat and humidity in July.

Before moving out, the family hired a private mold inspector to test the premises.  The results are due Friday.

Michelle Ferguson told PIX 11 when she cut a small piece of sheetrock in a closet, “I definitely saw signs of visible mold” in the wall cavity.

The apartment complex told PIX it never had mold problems before, even though some previous tenants contacted Lauren Norinder and said they had disputes—before Hurricane Sandy—with the leasing office about dampness.  The owner told PIX 11 the units never flooded during Sandy.

STATEN ISLAND (PIX11) - Billions of dollars in Sandy aid grants is finally available for storm victims through NYC’s Build It Back Program, but there is a catch.

And it could cost storm victims thousands of much needed funds.

Like many Sandy survivors, the Eick family has been rebuilding their Staten Island home straight from their savings.

Eight months and nearly $50,000 later, the outside of their home looks beautiful.

“Oh yeah, the outside of the house looks great.  Now, come on inside,” laughs Joe.

With an unfinished kitchen, bathroom and living room, there is still a lot of work to do and money goes fast.  That is why Joe and Laura were grateful to hear the grants for the federal Sandy funds are finally available.

The problem is, something the government told them to do, right after the storm, is hurting them months later.

The Eicks say when they signed up for FEMA assistance back then, the agency made them apply for a SBA loan.  They were approved for $160,000 that they would have to pay back over 30 years.

“30 years is a long time to have a note on your back so I said I can’t do this,” said Joe Eick.  The Eicks turned down the loan.

They aren’t the only ones.  A single mother of three, Angela Peralta is in the same boat.  She was approved for a $40,000 loan.  She also turned it down.

“I didn’t want to take a loan I would likely default on.  If I die, my children, who are all underage would be responsible for that loan,” said Peralta.

Even though the families did NOT take on the loans, the Feds are still counting the applications as if they did take them and are deducting the amount they qualified for, from any future federal grants they could receive.

“They’re going to take off something I didn’t even get? That makes no sense.  That’s why I feel like I’m being punished, everyone is being punished for this storm,” said Joe Eick.

NYS Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis, pinpointed this problem awhile ago and has been working with the entire New York congressional delegation to fight the Feds.

“The federal government has to change this policy. They are going to destroy so many families and lives unless they waive this policy,” said Malliotakis.

Families like the Peraltas and the Eicks hope that happens soon, so that they can  continue to rebuild their lives.

“It’s always an obstacle.  ‘Oh, we’re going to help you, no, we are not going to help you, oh wait, we are going to help you, no, we are not going to help you.’  I just want it to be over,” said Laura Eick through tears.

The Feds overseeing Sandy aid tell PIX 11 News they are “keenly aware of the situation,” and “are working on it.”  An announcement on this issue is expected in the coming weeks.

In the meantime if you are a storm victim and still need financial help, make sure you register for the NYC’s Build It Back program.

 

Bon Jovi

(PIX11) — New Jersey residents now have a million new reasons to love Jon Bon Jovi.

The Jersey native cut a $1 million check Monday to help the Garden State recover from the ravages of Superstorm Sandy.

The announcement came Monday morning at the Borough Hall in Sayreville, where, Bon Jovi emphasized, he  grew up, went to school and met his wife.  On hand were Gov. Christie, First Lady Mary Pat Christie and their daughter, 17-year-old Sarah, among others.

Off the Raritan River, the working-class neighborhoods of Sayerville were some of the hardest hit in New Jersey.

“These aren’t vacation homes, they aren’t second homes,” Bon Jovi said. “It’s the kind of community where both parents worked full time. This is the kind of place that’s middle class America, a hard-working community.”

Bon Jovi is an honorary advisory board member of the Hurricane Sandy New Jersey Relief Fund, which is chaired by Mary Pat Christie.

His donation will go a long way toward helping organizations involved in things like home repairs and rebuilding projects.

A resident named Bill Nordling, 41, said to both Bon Jovi and Christie, “You two guys, your presence here certainly helps out.”

“We got no choice,” Christie replied, “that’s what we gotta do.”

ROCKAWAYS, New York (PIX11) - In parts of the Rockaways and Breezy Point, it was not Sandy’s tidal surge that took down homes.  Instead fierce fires burned down those homes.

“Salt water combined with electrical system caused sparking and fires erupted everywhere, it was an absolute inferno,” said lawyer Keith Sullivan.

A steadfast staple on Beach 130th street for more than 30 years, The Harbor Light Pub burned to the ground.  For owner Billy Heeran, it is still tough to see the empty space where his pub once stood.

“I think everybody is still in shock about this. 9 months later, we’re still like this.  Just the foundation left here,” said Heeeran.

While there was talk around town that power companies were going to shut off the electricity.  It never happened.

But if it did, Heeran says, “It would definitely have prevented the fires that happened.”

Nearby Rockaway resident Hannah Sweeny agrees.  50 yards down the street from the pub, she was inside her home the night Of the storm when she went to the porch to check on the rising flood waters.

“I look down the street and the restaurant and houses up to there, were in flames, had to be 200 feet in the air. Oh my God,” Sweeny said, holding her hand to her mouth as she remembered that moment on October 29th, 2012.

That is why Sweeny and Heeran are two of 120 residents suing LIPA and National Grid.  Their lawyer Keith Sullivan says the companies are fully responsible for the damage caused by the fires to the tune of at least $80 million.

“Both companies knew the industry standard was to de-energize the communities and they failed to do that.  They chose to take the less safe path for these residents,” said Sullivan.

That path, Hannah says, cost her, her Rockaway home of nearly 40 years.

“It was all ashes. I’m thinking maybe I can find something. But there was nothing.  37 years.  Gone.”

LIPA sent a statement to PIX 11 saying, “The actions taken during Sandy were reasonable and appropriate, and we do not believe the claims [in the lawsuit] have merit.”

STATEN ISLAND (PIX11) - The truth behind the walls and home inspection signs reveals much more than many would expect, which is why Congressman Michael Grimm shone a light on the issues that the city declares ‘fine’.
“We’re calling on the city’s Health Department to come in and say their public health hazards, and do whatever needs to be done so the nuisance is abated,” Grimm said.

Congressman Grimm gave the media a tour of the infested homes and told us the city isn’t taking mold issues seriously.

In a recent statement, the Health Department told us “mold in abandoned homes does not generally pose a health risk to neighbors.”

“You can see the moisture and everything in here behind where the sheet rock was. these boards are still damp, and that’s basically a breading ground for mold,” Dennis McKeon who runs the organization “Where to turn” said. His organization helps victims of Sandy.

“This is an example of probably about 600 or 700 houses on Staten Island,” he added while touring a gutted-out home.

Residents say they hope Grimm stepping up today will push others to do the same, because, so far, it seems nearly every city official is staying away from the issue.

NEW YORK (PIX11) – U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand formally pressured FEMA to pay up, thanks to our report that showed how a loophole in the Fed’s flood insurance program (NFIP) has thousands of Sandy victims faced with flood claim denials.

Last week, PIX 11 reported how the National Flood Insurance Program is denying claims to some Sandy-stricken homeowners who have costly damage to their foundations.  The problem is with the policy language, which was written by Congress.  It says it will not pay for property loss caused by “earth movement,” adding, “even if that movement is caused by flood.”
This caught the attention of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand who is now hoping to fix this FEMA practice.

READ THE LETTER FROM SENATOR GILLIBRAND TO FEMA OFFICIALS

“It is deeply troubling that damages caused by a storm of this magnitude are excluded from flood insurance policies,” said Senator Gillibrand. “We must ensure that no bureaucratic fine print stands in the way of getting Sandy-impacted homeowners fully back on their feet. Our New York homeowners who suffered damages from the storm deserve the needed resources to repair and rebuild their homes.”

In a letter to FEMA Administrator Craig Fugate, Senator Gillibrand wrote, “It is unacceptable for the Federal Government to use such loopholes to deny responsible homeowners the benefits that they paid for through their insurance premiums. To deny these claims pulls the rug out from underneath homeowners who are relying on their flood insurance policies to rebuild their homes…. I request that you immediately review the regulatory requirements for FEMA’s standard flood insurance policy and reconsider the denials that have been issued to homeowners based on the ‘earth movement’ exclusion.”

FEMA has not responded to any calls or emails.

Experts tell us it may literally take an Act of Congress to change the policy retroactively so Sandy victims are protected.

Stay with PIX 11 News for the latest on this developing story.

Nassau County officials announced Thursday the arrest of 61 unlicensed home improvement contractors accused of targeting Hurricane Sandy victims.

Officials said they received more than 100 complaints from Sandy victims who were taken advantage of by contractors that led to a sting operation.

Officials say one contractor took $80,000 from a customer and never completed the repairs.

LONG ISLAND (PIX11) – According to Sen. Chuck Schumer, major insurance companies are withdrawing from the Long Island market, leaving homeowners scrambling to find policies.

AllState, Farmer’s and Liberty Mutual started dropping coverage after Superstorm Sandy hit, even on homes not damaged in the storm.

That forced people to purchase more expensive policies that offer less favorable terms.

Staten Island, NY – “You have this riff raff, this element, that’s underlying everything, that’s just waiting to pounce.  They’re like vultures,” said Ray Weiler, a resident of the hard-hit area of Ocean Breeze, who is grateful for the pumped up the police presence now in his neighborhood.

But that increased presence came after thieves broke into his Sandy-ravaged home a few weeks ago and caused thousands of dollars in damage.  The criminals were after the copper water and heating pipes and they cut off as many as they could.

“The plumbing alone is going to cost me $3,200 just to fix that.  That’s not the sheetrock, or plywood or insulation.  Then, I still have to worry about mold. We already had remediation done but everything is all wet again!” explained Weiler.

Since the family has been living in a rental in Oakwood Heights since Sandy, a neighbor alerted Weiler to the burglary, who raced over to his home at three in the morning.

“It was like walking back into Sandy, you know, water everywhere,” said Weiler, shaking his head.

Dedicated to staying in their home, the Weilers had already started the long process of rebuilding.  Ray’s wife Jeanne said, “All of that was for nothing.  Now, we have to replace all of that again.”

They are not the only ones, dealing with consequences of this crime.

In the past month, thieves hit at least three more unoccupied Sandy homes, just like the Weilers.

That spurred calls of concern to the local police and politicians, resulting in the recent ramping up of police patrols.

Cops have already caught three people they say are responsible for the Weiler burglary as well as another house.

“Ever since then, it’s been outstanding, you can’t go around the corner without seeing a cop car,” said Weiler.

With four boys, rent, a mortgage, and his childhood home to rebuild, Weiler is also dealing with Stage 4 throat cancer.  All he wants is to get his family back into their home by Christmas but it’s tough to get through each day when things like this happen.

“It’s heart-breaking.  To go thru Sandy is enough.  And enough is enough.”

Keep in mind, like many Sandy victims, the Weilers are also still fighting with insurance companies and not able to afford rent on top of a mortgage on top of all of the out-of-pocket rebuilding costs.

Fortunately, for them, the Tunnels to Towers foundation, stepped up to help and is footing the plumbing bill.

“A huge help.  They have just been amazing,” said Weiler.

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